We all have our own stories. While we can play significant roles in each other’s lives, it’s our own personal tales that truly make us uniquely interesting. In D’Avekki Studios’ new FMV adventure Murderous Muses, it’s not just the story of a murder that is so tantalizing, it’s all the little narratives that have brought each suspect to this moment. For this game, the creators of The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, The Shapeshifting Detective and Dark Nights with Poe & Munro revisit their distinctive brand of supernatural live-action mystery, adding a host of new elements along the way. The result certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s filled with an impressively realized and creepy world full of captivating characters.
The game opens with you working security all alone at the Gallery Argenta on a small island called Mirlhaven. Your boss calls to wish you luck on your first day and asks if you could unbox and hang some paintings for her during your shift. Not in a hurry to get busy, you switch off the video call and flip on an episode of “Mirlhaven’s Unsolved Mysteries” on TV, learning that the gallery’s featured artist, Mordechai Grey, was murdered one year ago on Halloween night.
Like D’Avekki’s previous efforts, Murderous Muses is a murder mystery with many filmed segments performed by real actors. However, in a new turn for the studio, this game allows you to freely walk and look around a fully 3D environment using standard first-person controls. The reticle in the center of the screen changes slightly when you’re looking at an item you can click on, and you have an inventory that you can open up with a button press. I played switching back and forth between a Steam Deck and a computer, and both the Deck controls, a PC controller, and the mouse and keyboard combo played smoothly and comfortably.
Murderous Muses is split up into three days and three nights, each featuring its own unique gameplay. During the days, you can walk around the museum at your leisure, pulling paintings from crates and pairing them up with plaques on the walls. It’s a game of educated guesses, which can vary in challenge from names like “The Lighthouse” that match their subjects literally, to the more abstract, like “Revenge.” There is no limit here to the number of times you can try a painting above a plaque, but once you get one correct, an audio tour button will open up and you can learn something about the painting.
Since Mordechai painted many scenes from his life and the town, each audio clip reveals an interesting piece of lore about the strange island of Mirlhaven. The writing is macabre and occasionally absurd, but in a good way. Think “Welcome to Night Vale,” but a little toned down. Ghost stories and bits of history tie into each other, sometimes in subtle ways that make the world feel intriguing and real. Even though you never leave the museum at any point, these little touches make the world of Murderous Muses feel large and full of life.
With the guidance of notes that your boss has helpfully left around, you can end the day portion by resting in front of the TV. You awaken deep into the night, which is where the real fun happens. On the first night, after a confusing tutorial that really only makes sense in retrospect, you find yourself back in the reception area, where six of the museum’s portraits are suddenly scattered around the room. The notes from your boss are gone, replaced by new ones from a man named Higgins – and more disconcertingly, he begins speaking to you in a disembodied voice.
Higgins, it seems, has plans for you. Not only has he replaced the entire audio tour to teach you the “real truth” about Mirlhaven, he’s also setting you on a quest to solve the murder of Mordechai Grey. The six portraits now littered around the reception desk, Mordechai’s former muses, are the only suspects.
Each night follows a similar formula: You watch an episode of “Mirlhaven’s Unsolved Mysteries,” which provides you with one new detail of Mordechai’s murder, like the time or the weapon used, to serve as a clue. Next, you enter one of the rooms full of empty hooks on the wall above plaques with various words. Every time you put a portrait on one of those hooks, you see a video through Mordechai’s eyes, of a moment when the subject spoke about the topic on the plaque while sitting for the painting. When the video finishes, you remove the painting and the plaque flips to a new word from the short list related to each “exhibit.” Each exhibit also contains some kind of matching or memory-based mini-game, which grants you a key to a locked room. The locked “puzzle room” rewards you with one extra video for each character, a message from your boss, and a collectible.
The six portraits start each night with six swirling marbles on their frames called the “eyes of Mordechai.” Playing a memory video uses up one eye, so based on the limited context available, you have to be choosy about what videos you play because you will run out if you don’t at least try to focus on what’s relevant to the case. To complicate matters, there is a locked police interview video pertaining to each suspect with three words under it. To unlock the police interview, on one of the three nights you have to pair the respective person’s painting up with those three words in that exact order. While the memory videos contain plenty of lore and character motivation for each suspect, it’s really the police interviews that contain the important clues as to who was the real killer.
Trying to unlock the police interviews can be a frustrating challenge, as the plaques flip to new words randomly after you view memory videos. Certain times, you simply cannot unlock an interview because the words you need just won’t come up in the order you need them. Fortunately, the game does offer a few bits of help. Additional “eyes” are hidden around each exhibit room that you can pick up, and there are stations where extra eyes can be slotted into paintings to replace those that have been spent. At these stations, the game also allows you to trade in two unused eyes in a particular painting to add an extra eye to your inventory, to be slotted into any painting you wish. Since each painting resets each night, but the eyes in your inventory do not, these can be used strategically.
After your three nights are up, you’ll have to think about all the clues you’ve unveiled throughout the game and make your best guess as to the killer’s identity.
I love a good pen-and-paper mystery, and that’s what Murderous Muses is at its core. You collect all the evidence in-game and then use your own interpretations and deduction skills to make your choices. However, there are so many gameplay elements at work here that trying to grasp it all on your initial playthrough can be difficult. It took me running out of eyes of Mordechai the first night before I understood what they even were. The tutorial is really too obtuse to be helpful, and I found myself struggling to catch up on the second night.
Solving the mystery once takes about three hours, but the game is designed to be replayed. In each playthrough the killer is randomized, so certain videos that pertain to their guilt or innocence will be different. This especially applies to the police interviews and the episodes of “Mirlhaven’s Unsolved Mysteries,” which dictate the pieces of information that determine the killer for that run. While multiple playthroughs grant you the ability to see videos you missed on previous runs, many of the words also change completely, meaning you could potentially have two runs where none of the videos are the same. Although it’s more likely that there will be significant overlap.
There is a larger plot hidden in Murderous Muses as well, for those who have the patience to pursue it. Much like the police interviews, there are rooms for each suspect where watching a certain series of videos will unlock a new painting. These can be done in any order and across multiple playthroughs and reveal more backstory about each character.
I spent about 12 hours playing through again and again before unlocking all the lore. By the end, so many of the videos and puzzles were the same that I would skip nearly all of them and complete a full run in 40 minutes or so. The randomized elements can make this a chore since you might play four or five runs that are nearly identical before you unlock the word, say, “Divination.” And even if you do, your lack of ability to control what a plaque flips to after playing a video might mean that even if you find a word, you can’t unlock it for every character you need it for. It’s hard to pin down how many dozens of words there are in total, but the ending screen touts a whopping 588 videos to watch. At the time of writing this, after 7 playthroughs, I’ve seen 440.
The rewards for perseverance are somewhat fruitful in their own right, as each character has a pretty intriguing self-contained narrative of their own. Like other D’Avekki games, Murderous Muses isn’t just one story. Instead, it uses the backdrop of Mordechai’s murder to tell six unique horror tales centered around the suspects. I’m not sure if unlocking every detail is worth the repetition (especially going through the tutorial over and over again!) but I’m still glad I stuck with it to get all the details.
The performances in this game are impressive. Aislinn M De’Ath, a D’Avekki alum from way back, brings the character of Lilith – the mortician with a horrifying dietary secret—to life with charm and pathos. Newcomers are also effective, like Rikki Stone, who portrays a delightfully hate-able ventriloquist named Otto, haunted by a doll who just might be more than a doll. Almost to a person, each actor does an incredible job of bringing the community of Mirlhaven to life, creating memorable and realistic characters that will tug at your heartstrings as much as they creep you out.
FMV quality can be such a mixed bag, and yet D’Avekki succeeds where many fail. By creating scenarios where the videos are presented logically, such as self-contained interviews or memories, rather than jarring cutscenes, it feels like a natural element of the game and never a gimmick. Adding in their top-tier talent and cinematic directing sensibilities makes Murderous Muses a lovely game to look at – at least in the live-action segments.
The big visual stumble here is the 3D environment. The museum is about as basic as a game map can be. Bland textures repeat along simple, blocky models, making you feel like you’re wandering around a game from 2001. While the focus is definitely the FMV sequences, it’s a bit disappointing that more attention was not paid to the environment, given the effort made to let you actually wander around it. Even the paintings are underwhelming, as they mostly seem like photos or better pieces of art run through Photoshop filters.
Fortunately, the bland graphics don’t detract much from the game’s atmosphere. This isn’t exactly the scariest of horror games – there are no jump scares, no fear that something is going to leap out at you from behind a corner – but it’s definitely an eerie experience. The details of each character’s creepy life are doled out in so many little pieces that it keeps you unsettled every time you discover something new. Traversing the gallery’s dark wooden floors surrounded by blood-red walls while spooky music box tunes play in the background can give you the chills.
While it certainly has its flaws, most of Murderous Muses is highly impressive and entertaining. The acting and video work are some of the best ever done in FMV games. But while it’s nice to see D’Avekki continue to innovate on how to deliver the live-action character drama they do so well, their first excursion into 3D graphics is incredibly underwhelming. Fortunately, the mysteries are intriguing and the effort to create a mystery game with replay value is definitely laudable, even if those replays become increasingly filled with repeated content, meaning it’s probably best replayed with plenty of space in between playthroughs. However, the world of Mirlhaven is so interesting that I suspect it’ll be hard to put your curiosity aside for too long.
Although hampered slightly by lackluster environments and overly repetitive randomized replays to unlock the story in full, Murderous Muses is another impressively written and performed FMV mystery game by D’Avekki Studios, centered around dynamic characters and an unforgettable setting.
- Excellent performances make the FMV sequences shine
- In the first few playthroughs, mystery-solving elements are challenging and exciting
- Extraordinary writing and carefully crafted lore create a unique and memorable setting in Mirlhaven
- Unforgettable characters full of pathos with backstories that are fun to uncover
- Underwhelming, simplistic 3D environment
- Esoteric gameplay elements are hard to grasp at first, not helped by a baffling tutorial
- Lack of variety in replays eventually turns unlocking content into a chore
- Chance-based elements can be frustrating when some of the demands are so rigid
Matt played Murderous Muses on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.